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The 4th International Symposium on Rhizoctonia took place at Humboldt University, located in the centre of Berlin. The location, with its mix of history and culture, was ideal for this three-day meeting. The symposium covered all aspects of Rhizoctonia, a group of fungi known for causing a wide range of plant diseases worldwide. The scientific content of the symposium commenced with a presentation on Rhizoctonia solani AG8 from Stephen Neate. R. solani, is actually a species complex comprised of thirteen known anastomosis groups (AGs) and numerous subgroups of those AGs. AG8 is responsible for bare patch disease in cereals, but despite being one the most economically important root pathogens in Australia, much still remains to be discovered about the pathogen.
The remainder of the first day covered genetics, taxonomy and plant-pathogen interactions. Presentation topics included the population genetics and phylogeography of R. solani AG1-1A and a description of an emerging pathogen of turf grass in the USA, Waitea circinata var. circinata. Several presentations focused on R. solani AG3, which many of us will be familiar with as it causes black scurf in potatoes. These talks focused on a dsRNA associated with cytoplasmic hypovirulence in AG3 isolates, the variability and heterogeneity in rDNA ITS regions and micro array analysis of differentially expressed genes of R. solani AG3 during infection. Marc Cubeta gave a particularly interesting talk on the whole genome-sequencing project for AG3 (http://www.rsolani.org/). The day concluded with two presentations on transformation strategies for Rhizoctonia.
The second day of the conference focused on disease management. Talks included disease suppressive soils, biocontrol and the use of soil amendments. One presentation that instigated much discussion amongst delegates was the development of a strain of Pseudomonas fluorescens that was genetically modified to have enhanced biological control activity. The remainder of the day focused on more conventional disease management strategies but with an emphasis on sugar beet. It was perhaps a missed opportunity that potatoes were not included in this session. However, there were several interesting posters on managing Rhizoctonia in potatoes in the subsequent poster session. Later, delegates were treated to a city boat tour, which gave unique views of several well known Berlin landmarks, such as the Reichstag building.
The final day commenced with a talk on the use of real-time PCR to quantify R. solani in soil and how it is now being offered as a service to cereal growers in Australia. This was followed by a presentation from a UK colleague, Matthew Back, who presented his research on the interaction of the Potato Cyst Nematode and R. solani in potatoes. This made me think that perhaps the interactions between different diseases can often be overlooked as in research it is easy to focus on just one pathogen in isolation, whereas in real life we need to consider several pathogens. Later that morning, in contrast to talks focusing on the many diseases that Rhizoctonia can cause, Paul Bayman gave a talk on the relationship Rhizoctonia species can have with orchids. Orchid seeds need a mycorrhizal fungal partner in order to germinate. With tropical epiphytic orchids this fungus is typically Rhizoctonia. However, as the presentation explained, as opposed to a mutualistic interaction, it is actually the orchid that parasitizes the fungus. This may be a little surprising to plant pathologists who are so used to seeing the fungus infecting the plant.
I would like to thank the BSPP for contributing towards the cost of attending this symposium. It was a great opportunity to learn about Rhizoctonia and meet international colleagues and imparted me with the enthusiasm and ideas for further research into this important plant pathogen.
James Woodhall, Central Science Laboratory, York